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Santa on the Cheap

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Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Santa pawned his sleigh . . . It looks like Jolly Old Saint Nick may be riding bareback on Rudolph this year with his bag of goodies. For many families Christmas may just not be the same this year, and the cut backs have certainly reached the North Pole. If you are one of the many, as a parent you may be facing the fact that you just can’t spend as much on Christmas this year, and along with that, Santa’s annual haul may also be significantly less.

So how can you, as a parent who loves your child, spend less on Santa, one of the most altruistic and generous icons of our culture? What will your child feel when they wake up on Christmas morning and look under the tree only to find that Santa “cheaped out” on them? What’s up with that? Santa has unlimited income—doesn’t he? Isn’t he part of the G-8? Well, because current financial circumstances, I can only imagine that there are going to be a number of parents feeling guilt, failure, sadness, and worthlessness, because of their inability to come through for the big man.

The Culture of Christmas
Here is the problem: our culture has spent a lot of time, money, and public relations building up the image of the almighty elf in the red suit. As a result, many parents feel obligated to give until it hurts in the name of the overgrown elf and his somewhat diminutive north-bound brethren. Many of you may, at this point, be cursing this tradition, as you may be wondering whether to pay the light bill or purchase the latest game system to put under the tree.

So, why do our kids need so much at Christmas? Since this holiday is dedicated to the birth of the “son of God,” is this really what was really intended. I think not, but once we back ourselves in a corner and start a tradition, we often feel that we have to keep up with it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Norman Rockwell painted a great picture, but there are times in life when art can’t imitate life. Teaching your kids responsible spending, even if it’s from Santa Claus is probably the better angle to take. Is it really a good idea to go into more debt to buy more happiness? I didn’t think you could buy that.

The Santa Talk
So how do you talk to your child about this very delicate situation and explain that Santa Claus will not be spending as much this year? What I would suggest is that you start by adding a significant prefix to Santa. This prefix is “The Spirit of.” The reason is that this starts to explain the true idea behind Santa, who was born out of the intention to teach the gift of giving, not the gift of getting. Personally, I teach my daughter that the Spirit of Santa lives in everyone.

As you talk to your child, you can explain that in the recent years, you realized that we were all losing the meaning behind Christmas and discussed this with Santa (sometimes in life we all learn lessons, even Santa). You can support that your kids may have noticed that your family has not been spending as much, and there won’t be as much spent on Christmas this year.

They might notice that other kids may get more from Santa when they are getting less, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t made good choices. The decision to spend less was made between you and Santa, and each parent makes their own agreement with Santa. If they feel upset that others get more from Santa, you understand that, but it is not a reflection on them.

The next issue is to help your kids to understand their expectations of what they will get by looking through a list of wants. If they are going to visit Santa, have them limit their lists to a few “realistic” items. I believe that having an endless list of wants that they can dream about only to find that they get nothing on that list leads to disappointment, sadness and bad memories.

Talk to your kids about what you want them to learn from the holiday, and let them know that you want to focus on what you all have rather then what they will get. You also want to talk about how you have learned that happiness doesn’t lie in how much you get or what you have, it lies inside of us. You may want to then encourage your kids to develop a season of giving and see how you can help others in inexpensive ways. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Each day leading up to Christmas go around the dinner table and have everyone say something they feel gratitude for.
  2. Each person in the family makes a present for someone else in the family with a dollar limit.
  3. Perhaps even consider contacting DFCS to help provide Christmas for a child in foster care.
  4. As a family, make cookies, a meal or something nice for someone or a family who is having challenges.
  5. Try to get a group together to sing at a retirement home.


The goal is to change the focus to what they can give and have them find happiness in sharing with others. Start a new tradition this year that may carry on for generations, and let the “Spirit of Santa” fill your heart instead of your stocking. I would ask you to have yourself and children consider this: Ask not what Christmas can do for you, but what can you do for Christmas.

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